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Pondering Russian and Ukrainian military capability…

June 13, 2014

Summary: what if Russia had had to fight for the Crimea? Are the bulk of their armed forces still a paper tiger, suitable only for sabre-rattling?

I am pretty certain I took Anna Politkovskaya’s book out before the Crimean “liberation”.   But a question that has been playing around in my mind since the actually quite brilliant tactical success of the Russian approach to returning the Crimea to Mother Russia.  What would have happened if the Russia Army had actually had to fight for the Crimea, or now (of particular relevance since the “three Russian tanks enter Ukraine” story) for eastern parts of Ukraine.  The poorly equipped, poorly treated, unmotivated, under-resourced, confused and scared conscripts, as per Politkovskaya, do not make a good defensive force, let alone an aggressive force capable of taking and holding ground.

Russian armour on motorwaycrop crop

Modern day sabre-rattling…

But is the Russian Army that bad now? My thus far very light skim over the subject suggests that President Putin has put a lot more resources, money and equipment into his armed forces, particularly after the small-scale Georgia conflict in 2008 seemed to confirm embarrassingly that no improvements had been made since Chechnya. This has arrested, and, in some cases, reversed, the decline of some parts of the military machine. Many aspects of the Special Forces, intelligence and information operations seen in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine look evidential of advanced capabilities in many ways. But these are the “special” elements. The impact of reforms across the wider Army look more ambiguous. New brigade structures and shiny equipment may not alone solve many of the personnel, institutional and infrastructural problems that it had at the start of this century, particularly under the stresses of a fast moving and complex “war within the people”. As we ought to know by now, invading and occupying a country can be relatively quick and easy. The social, political, military and insurgent problems generally tend arise, diversify and multiply only after someone has raised a “mission accomplished” banner.

But the question also applies in reverse – what would happen if the Ukrainian Army really had to fight against a bigger version of itself? My crude reckoning at present puts the Ukrainian Army a decade behind the Russians in terms of capability. Days – weeks at best – of resistance and then collapse into a piecemeal and protracted partisan (to use the local historical term for an insurgent) and anti-partisan morass?

This doesn’t bear thinking about.

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